Hospitals are like foreign countries, where the familiar cultural norms don’t apply – or rather, that’s what they are like for patients. Where else would you disclose the most private information to strangers, or allow them to perform intimate – and often painful or unpleasant – procedures on you?
And all this happens while patients are feeling at their most vulnerable – reliant on these strangers to make them well or even save their life.
For the people working there, however, hospitals are home territory full of familiar faces, and the information-gathering and procedures are routine parts of their day.
With the heavy workloads common to all staff groups across the NHS, there are probably few health professionals who can say they have the time they need to provide the standard of care they aspire to.
“During a recent admission for surgery I was struck by the character transformation I went through the moment I stepped onto the ward”
In such situations it’s the ‘soft stuff’ that tends to fall by the wayside as safety becomes the priority – it would be nice to spend five minutes chatting to a patient after conducting observations, but it’s just not possible when others are waiting for your attention for clinical reasons.
Most patients have some understanding of the pressure faced by the NHS and its staff, but that doesn’t stop it from adding to their vulnerability. They may be reticent to ‘bother’ staff for a drink or pain control, or avoid making conversation when staff attend to them so as not to waste their time.
During a recent admission for surgery I was struck by the character transformation I went through the moment I stepped onto the ward. I’m not known as a shrinking violet, but once admitted I became passive, acquiescent and eager to please staff by being a ‘good’ patient.
“The person who had the greatest impact on my experience of care was the late Kate Granger”
The clinical care I received was faultless, and although busy, the nurses and other staff were all friendly and compassionate.
But the person who had the greatest impact on my experience of care was the late Kate Granger, who in 2013 set up the #hellomynameis campaign to encourage staff to introduce themselves to patients.
Every time a member of staff came to my bedside they introduced themselves, and it really did make an enormous difference. Even though they didn’t have time to stop and chat, it was a simple acknowledgement that I was a person, not just an arm to take blood from or an ear to stick a thermometer in.
“If you haven’t adopted the #hellomynameis habit yet, how about making it your new year’s resolution?”
Staff and funding shortages aren’t going away any time soon, so health professionals have to focus on what keeps patients safe and gets them better. But staff introducing themselves helps patients to feel like they are still in a familiar land.
They may let people they’ve never met do things that would have them calling the police under any other circumstances, but once you’ve been introduced you aren’t quite strangers, so it feels a little less unnatural.
What a gloriously simple idea – and what a legacy to leave behind. It takes no extra time and doesn’t cost a penny, but it gives patients back a little of the humanity and individuality that can be lost when they enter the ward. We all owe Ms Granger a debt of gratitude.
If you haven’t adopted the #hellomynameis habit yet, how about making it your new year’s resolution? Your patients will appreciate it, and it’s an easy one to keep!